While much is made about exploring the oceans and outer space, another unexplored frontier lies right inside of us: our brains. We have yet to discover what our brains are capable of accomplishing, but researchers are hard at work on that question. Brain Awareness Week heightened public awareness on the important field of brain research. Here just a few things researchers have recently found to help keep our brains healthy:
- Our brains benefit from mental exercise. Just like other muscle tissues in our bodies, the brain benefits from exercise, although we can’t work it out at the gym. Cognitive exercises such as working to complete puzzles, playing board games, learning a foreign language, and reading the news keep our brains stimulated and therefore fitter than passive activities that require very little thought, like watching television.
- Our brains also benefit from physical exercise. For example, going on a brisk walk improves the flow of oxygen to the brain. Learning a new dance move builds new neural pathways that strengthen the brains ability to solve problems. Studies show that people who engage in moderate exercise several days per week have lower rates of brain disorders.
- Our brains like to socialize. Brain researchers are finding that interacting with others is also a great strengthener of our brains. For example, participating in a support group or reading relevant books when facing a problem not only reduces our stress, but also forms more new neural pathways in our brains. These pathways are also built by taking classes and attending workshops and seminars with others.
- Our brains like coffee and tea. You already knew that caffeinated coffee helps you feel more alert, but several types of teas seem to benefit the brain as well. Researchers report that teas like gotu, tulsi, and ginseng maintain a healthy balance of brain chemicals, helping you feel mentally alert without the use of stress hormones, which, over time, can wear on your brain’s function.
- Our brains also like nuts. Nuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which decrease inflammation and improve mood. Snacking on nuts and even cooking with nut oils like walnut oil give your brain an omega-3 boost without having to invest on bottles of supplements.
- Our brains like to meditate. Meditation helps our brain handle stress without needing to produce too much cortisol, which is a stress hormone that can damage the brain’s ability to focus on and remember things over time.